October 28, 2013


10 Best Lou Reed Covers

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Yesterday, the incalculably influential Lou Reed died at age 71. As the leader of the Velvet Underground and in the early years of his solo career, Reed set the template for punk, indie, glam and noise rock. So while we mourn the loss of a true innovator who changed the direction of rock music forever, we're taking a look at some of the greatest cover versions of his songs. The diversity of genres on this list—New Wave, garage blues, hard rock and industrial—is a testament to the wide-ranging influence of his art.

The Kills – "Pale Blue Eyes" (2012)

The most recently-recorded cover on our list comes from British-American indie rock duo the Kills. They give the fragile acoustic song a garage-blues makeover, and Alison Mosshart's defiant, weathered voice take the song to a level of emotional intimacy most covers never achieve.

The Runaways – "Rock & Roll" (1976)

With Joan Jett on guitar, '70s all-girl rockers the Runaways bring out the crunching hard rock stomp and the punky snarl of the joyous original. And if you have a fever for cowbell, this song is your cure.

Billy Idol – "Heroin" (1993)

As difficult as it is to imagine the VU's "Heroin" reimagined as a synth-y industrial dance track, leather-clad rocker Billy Idol somehow managed this feat. Bonus: He throws in lyrical references to Patti Smith's "Gloria," too.

Gang of Four – "Sweet Jane" (1979)

You wouldn't think a post-punk band's Velvet Underground cover would sound so joyous, but the dual lead vocals and propulsive playing from Gang of Four help capture the gleeful urgency of the original.  

Duran Duran – "Perfect Day" (1995)

The typically prickly Lou Reed heaped praise on this cover of his solo song during an episode of Behind the Music: "I think Duran Duran's version of 'Perfect Day' is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I'm not sure that I sang it as well as Simon [Le Bon] sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could've sung it the way he did, I would've. It wasn't from lack of trying."

David Bowie – "Waiting for the Man" (1970)

Before becoming a legend in his own right, David Bowie covered his musical and spiritual godfather Lou Reed for the BBC in 1970. Dropping the near-atonal piano clang of the original, Bowie turns it into a psychedelic-leaning classic rock song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on his The Man Who Sold the World album.

Big Star – "Femme Fatale" (1978)

It's hard to imagine anyone delivering a Velvet Underground song and sounding more depressed than Nico, but Alex Chilton managed exactly that with Big Star's version of "Femme Fatale" on the Third/Sister Lovers album. While Nico sounded dour, Chilton sang it like he was about to collapse into the fetal position mid-verse.

The Riats – "Run Run Run" (1967)

A garage/frat rock band from the Netherlands recorded the first VU cover in 1967 by taking on "Run Run Run." Their version has a handclap rhythm and an organ that sounds straight from a baseball park.

Joy Division – "Sister Ray" (1980)

A lot of bands have covered the Velvets, but few have ever matched their penchant for destructive cacophony. Ian Curtis and Co., however, were never like anyone else, so it's no surprise they managed to take on the apocalyptic avant-rock track and capture the sense of danger present in the ahead-of-its-time original.

Beck "The Black Angel's Death Song" (2009)

Fellow stylistic chameleon Beck stripped down this experimental rock track and recast it in the vein of early Bob Dylan, making it sound less like a hallucinatory nightmare and more like a folk protest song. It's a perfect illustration of the durability of Reed's catalog.